Presenting Gender: Changing Sex in Early-Modern Culture

By Chris Mounsey | Go to book overview

The Metamorphosis of Sex(uality): Ovid's
"Iphis and Ianthe" in the Seventeenth and
Eighteenth Centuries

DAVID MICHAEL ROBINSON


I

Some Binarisms: Discontinuity/Continuity—Dissimilarity/Similarity—
Difference/Sameness

IF I COULD CHANGE ONE ASPECT OF THE FIELD OF LESBIAN/GAY/QUEER/ Sexuality Studies, it would be the privileging of dissimilarity over similarity, discontinuity over continuity, that has prevailed among practitioners for the past decade or two. It is my firm conviction that, both in our scholarship and our pedagogy, we ought to resist reinforcing this either/or tendency, which has arguably become the central theoretical divide structuring, and assigning value to, our work. Both from the standpoint of historical truth and from the standpoint of political efficacy, the current dogma prescribing defamiliarization of the past— enforced especially through more or less contemptuous dismissal of work that renders the past, or elements of it, familiar, as well as through omission of such familiarizing work from anthologies and course syllabi—is a costly mistake.1 A both/and approach would be far more useful, given that, as far as I can see, past concepts, categories, ideologies, and (to the extent they are recoverable) experiences of sex, sexuality, and gender have been both like and unlike present ones.2 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick makes this point brilliantly in Epistemology of the Closet, in the section headed, "Axiom 5: The historical search for a Great Paradigm Shift may obscure the present conditions of sexual identity" (44–48). She argues that in "radically defamiliarizing and denaturalizing the past," in asserting that past same-sex practices are fundamentally different from "the homosexuality 'we know today',… such an analysis… has tended inadvertently to refamiliarize, renaturalize, damagingly reify an entity that it could be doing much more to subject to analysis… ","

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